The poetry of Resistance distinguishes itself by a persuasive rhetoric that asks readers to act. The poems in Women write Resistance: poets resist gender violence constitutes a collective shout of alarm and boldly resisting the face of such silencing. It is one of the most utter forms of violence against women by silencing the one who has been violated and abused. Though Indian women writing poetry in English have adopted ‘resistance’ and ‘gender’ as a principle to concrete the ideologies, identity, experiences, and self-discovery.
Ridiculing many disagreeable facts of gender discrimination and the voices of suppressed women widespread in contemporary India, Meena Kandasamy uses her poetry to combat patriarchy. This article intends to critically examine four poems ‘Mascara’, ‘My Lover speaks on Rape’, ‘Fire Walkers’ and ‘Backstreet Girls’ by Meena Kandasamy to elucidate the muted voices of womanhood in contemporary India.
Meena Kandasamy’s poems grow out of incidental situations within realized settings mapping the turf of woman issues. Her poetry is also the poetry of self-realization, embodying genuine private fears and anxieties in a confessional tone. She writes with a sense of constitutional allegiance, examining the personal and then uplifting the encounter to a sort of ‘strategic essentialism’ (Spivak)  invoking the collective category of ‘women’; that becomes her major difference from Kamala Das, in dealing with the themes like man-woman relationship, marriage, sexuality, cathartic value of writing and a quest for identity that form the theme in both of their writings. For example, her prize-winning poem “My lover speaks on rape” which explores the terrain of violence and discretion of within man-woman relationship to clarify rape; breaking the myth that rape occurs only among strangers; showing that ‘violence can come from love, from a very intimate person’ (Kandasamy) with aggression often being the trigger than sexual desire.
The reader can observe that the poem implies the poet’s ordeal with domestic abuses and a violent relationship with the husband.
“Flaming green of morning that awaits rain
And my lover speaks of rape through silence
Green turns to unsightly teal of hospital beds
And he is softer than feathers, but I fly away
To shield myself from the retch of burns
Ward, the shrill sound of dying declarations,
The floral pink white sad skin of dowry death
Open eyes, open hands, his open all clear soul…”
The poem renders the distress of a woman for her lover’s passivity and lack of reciprocation. It has a cathartic value and in an interview, Kandasamy admits that she is writing out of her helplessness. She writes because she wants to rebel and this is the only way she knew. The poem is infused with “dynamic charge, its rhythm of struggle, need, will and female energy” (Rich 19) . The absence of their selves from relationships clearly signifies the unrequited love of the women, who have treated nothing but the object for their sexual gratification which has turned out to be a normal phenomenon in their desiccated lives.
Kandasamy’s another poem “Black Street Girls” addresses the moral policing and it breaks all the restrains to grant independence to women. Also through this poem, she is challenging the chastity forced upon the women.
“Tongues untied, we swallow suns
Sure as sluts, we strip random men.
Sleepless. There’s Stardust on our lids.
Naked. There’sself-love on our minds.
And yes, my dears, we are all friends.”
(Ms Militancy 45-50)
Through the poem, she is liberating women and now they don’t have to pay by the rules anymore. Like all other men, they too can act according to their wishes. They can choose their own self as ‘sluts, gluttons, bitches, witches, and shrews’. No more they can be chained in the so-called cultures and traditions. No one can limit them or own them. And no men can no longer choose them for wives but they are the ones who pick up and “strip random men”. The poem concludes with the sense of solidarity between women who refuse to fall into the archetype and stand together to fight. “Firewalkers” is also a powerful depiction of the plight of poor women who are exploited by the upper-class people. Through this poem, Kandasamy breaks the traditional image of Goddess Maari who is portrayed as an exploiter who gains pleasure from the pains of her believers.
“Maari had a one-point goal. Maari had a manic soul.
Maari made her men wage war, with her rapist blood,
To drench her hair. And then, and then,”
(Fire Walkers 1-4)
As these stories go, Maari with her heart of stone combed her hair with his left thighbone. Here she depicts the Goddess Maari as a mania who needs blood to drench her hair and her devotees are the dream-chasers, the fire walkers. They offer their bodies to be burnt and beaten. This is the invocation, “The pain is the prayer” which along with blood appeases the Goddess. Maari in this poem is none other than the oppressor of Dalits.
The devastated lives of a woman are highlighted in her poem “Mascara” with the minute details of the agony of a prostitute and her inner dilemma before entering into another distinct concert sexual intercourse. The squalid descriptions of her physical and mental pain recur again and again throughout the poem and through that, she is trying to hark back to her untold and forbidden dreams, which shed out through the silent black tears. The metaphor of ‘mascara’ which trims up time and again with the portrayal of the poem is in a way her vague attempt not to disclose her long-suppressed indignation and not to cringe before the social order.
“The last thing she does
before she gets ready to die
once more, of violation,
she applies the mascara.
It serves to tell her
that long buried
of a virgin soul
have dark outlines.”
(Mascara 1-4, 12-17)
The origin of these sufferings goes back to the age where upper castes and elite people used to impregnate them and other courtesans and later evaded their responsibilities. As a continuation of this tradition donated so many bastard children and unfortunately the girl children continue their legacy and stigma attached to their identity. This is deftly manifested in this poem in line 21-35. Through this Kandasamy elucidates the plight and chaotic life of women who are forced to live a life of prostitutes. This poem attempts to capture the self-contempt and dejection in her after a routine intercourse with one of her clients, whereas “Mascara” attempts to explore into the unease and fear of violation of her own self which precedes a tiresome sex with a stranger.
Thus Kandasamy’s poems in a way satisfy her thirst to revitalize the third world women and persuade them to express their own feelings, desires, dreams, independent views and speak for themselves rather than always spoken off by male counterparts. She focuses on women’s physic as the prime motif of her poetry and measures the spatial and temporal scales of oppression they face to resurrect the self-consciousness or identity of the women so that they can resist the dominant ideologies of the inequalitarian patriarchal society which tend to convince them and legitimize the prevalent subjugation of women and their confinement in smaller grooves. Also, her poems are an attempt to articulate a subcultural resistance to the very process of canonization of literature. She portrayed her poems standing from the society and most women from those underprivileged sections. This yearning of Kandasamy to awake them to write their own poetry of their own long-suppressed rages and desires and their silent rebellion against this age-long subjugation echoes through the very texture of her poems.
Kandasamy, Meena, Touch: Mumbai, Peacock Books, 2006
Kandasamy, Meena, Ms Militancy: New Delhi Narayana Publishing, 2010